Bumblebees vs Carpenter Bees: How to Tell Them Apart

Even though both these bees can easily be mistaken for the other, there are plenty of ways to tell them apart. In fact, if you plan on getting rid of the bees in your home, your chances of successfully doing it depends on correctly identifying the bee invader.

To help you with that, here’s a quick take on bumblebees vs carpenter bees.
Bumblebees vs Carpenter Bees: How to Tell Them Apart

Because of their size and colors, these bees are almost always mistaken for each other. CC Image courtesy of Pixabay and Ysmad on Wikipedia

Difference in Appearance

Carpenter bees and bumblebees are sometimes difficult to tell apart. That’s because many species have very similar color schemes, and their sizes are almost the same. However, in spite of all of these, they do have observable traits that you can use to tell them apart.

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When in doubt, look for hair – and a lot of it. Bombus bees have always been fuzzy. They have hair covering almost all the parts of their bodies. Because of this, they look stubby and fat. You can also identify these bees through their yellow and black stripes. Some have a single broad one placed neatly on their abdomens while some have two or three. Others even have two colors, a yellowish orange and a white stripe at the tail.

In contrast, carpenter bees (Xylocopa) are less hairy. Many species even have shiny abdomens that don’t appear to have any hair on them, at least none that you can see with your eyes. Some carpenter bees have yellow thoraxes with a big black dot on the center while some sport a monochromatic look, appearing with only a single color. The all-blacks are shiny and have a blue/green metallic sheen while the all-orange ones are referred to as “teddy bear bees” because of their orange-brown furry bodies.

Differences in Nesting Habits

Bumblebees are like honey bees; they live inside a busy nest with stored food. These bees prefer to live underground or right above it, making nests out of burrows or tall grass. They make their homes by secreting wax and building circular chambers that serve as storage units for food and grubs.

Fuzzy bumblebees live with a colony. They have a queen who’s responsible for producing more bees and workers that maintain the nest and forage for food. However, unlike beehives, they aren’t that many. Bumblebee nests would typically have about 50 to 400 inhabitants inside them. So their colony is usually small and difficult to spot.

For carpenter bees, nesting is mostly a lonely affair. They’re solitary. Meaning, each female lives alone raising her brood until they mature and leave the nest.

Carpenter bees are also known for digging into wood, be it a living tree or a dead plank. They dig through it using their sharp mandibles and build tunnels inside. Unfortunately, this damages the wood over time and causes problems like rotting and molding. The bees’ wood-drilling habit also annoys many homeowners, so they invest in a lot of methods to get rid of them.

Differences in Behavior

So if you’re still not sure about the bees flying in your yard, just look at how they behave.

If there are a lot of them, then you could be dealing with bumblebees as they establish small colonies. If you mostly see a single bee flying around, then there’s a possibility that it’s a carpenter bee. We dropped the word “possibility” because carpenter bees can live beside others of their kind following a simple social structure. That is, if they happen to live together in the same slab of wood.

Another thing that you have to think about is their activity time. A few days after the carpenter bee eggs hatch, the larvae grow into adults and venture out. However, some of them may come back to retake the old nest. And those are females about to raise grubs of their own.

In contrast, bumblebee nests can stay for a few months. Their nest dies out in the winter or late fall, but they thrive during summer.

All in all, bumblebees behave more like honey bees. They live in colonies, help one another and have a clear social system. Carpenter bees, on the other hand, are solitary and more destructive to human property. So when it comes to bumblebees vs carpenter bees, there’s a clear winner on what bug you should totally get rid of first.

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  • September 11, 2017
  • Bees